For race-winner Denny Hamlin, the Subway Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup victory Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway reversed a 39-race absence from Victory Lane and put him atop the driver standings two races into the new NASCAR season. Meanwhile, local driver Carl Edwards found it rough going in the No. 99 Roush-Fenway Ford, finishing well back in the pack on Sunday.
Edwards’ mediocre performance at Phoenix also dropped him from the top ten in the points standings. The 33-yearold Edwards, who just missed out winning last season’s Sprint Cup championship when he finished second to Tony Stewart in the final race of the year, was pretty much doomed from the start in the second Cup race of the 2012 season, qualifying 24th.
Although some drivers will tell you it doesn’t matter all that much where you qualify so long as your car is running in tip-top form on race day, there are more that fall on the opposite side of that debate. In fact, it was Edwards himself that said prior to the start of the 2012 NASCAR season that one of the things he and his Roush-Fenway race crew wanted to do better this year is placing more emphasis on qualifying and consistency in gaining the best starting position they could for every race.
That clearly wasn’t the case this past weekend in the Valley of the Sun. The No. 99 car, which had hoped to get a little extra motivation from running the Subway Ford with the brand-matching yellow paint scheme this week after introducing the car’s new standard blue and white livery for 2012 at the Daytona 500, was back on the 12th row (the 24th position on the grid) and ended up only seven position better after almost three hours and 312 laps of racing around Phoenix International’s one-mile layout.
Edwards was actually mounting a charge late, having moved up to sixth among the leaders with 65 laps to go, but brushed off of Ryan Newman causing right fender damage to the No. 99 car and effectively ending Edwards’ chances for a win or high finish.
Phoenix has been a good venue for Edwards in the past. He won his only race at this racetrack in 2010, and thought he had the fastest car at last year’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix, only to get it torn up in the early going. Edwards finished 28th at Phoenix a year ago after starting on the pole. In 16 starts now at Phoenix International Raceway, the No, 99 car has averaged a 12th-place finish and six top-fives.
Edwards, who led the Sprint Cup standings most of the season in 2011, is in pretty much the same position he was after two races a year ago. After Phoenix last year, the native Missourian was 12th in the standings with 59 points, 21 points behind the leader, Kyle Busch. Currently Edwards stands tenth in points (63), 26 back of Denny Hamlin, who last led the Sprint Cup standings with three races remaining in 2010.
Second place behind Hamlin in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 was Kevin Harvick, whose No. 29 Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress Racing lost fuel pressure with less than two laps to go in Sunday’s race but was able to hold its race position to the finish line. Edwards’ teammate Greg Biffle was third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Brad Kesleowski. Five-time Cup champion Johnson made a huge rebound from last week’s 42nd-place finish at Daytona after being involved in a multicar wreck in the opening laps of NASCAR’s biggest race of the year.
Clint Bowyer, originally from Emporia, Kan., didn’t fare much better than Edwards. Bowyer, who is in his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing, changing rides after seven seasons with Richard Childress, blew two right front tires before 25 laps were finished Sunday. He came in 30th at Phoenix after starting 16th. His average finish in 14 races there is deep in the second ten.
NASCAR stays out West for Week 3, with next weekend’s Kobalt Tolls 400 Sprint Cup race taking place at Las Vegas Speedway, the site of Carl Edwards’ only win a season ago. Edwards has won twice in seven previous starts at Las Vegas.
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